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Britain's Brown considers 500 more soldiers in Afghanistan

Prime Minister Gordon Brown says the UK will add the troops if the British military properly equips them, the Afghan army recruits more soldiers, and other NATO countries 'bear their fair share.'

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"The understanding in continental Europe is that we don't have an answer to a question that hasn't been posed," says Francois Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. "Obama has still not made up his mind about what his strategy is. We aren't going to put the cart before the horse. American pressure on Europe won't work without an understanding of what we are doing in Afghanistan."

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Sources in the German foreign ministry say that Germany has not been pressured by Washington for more troops; US diplomats said early in the Obama administration that he was aware that German chancellor Angela Merkel would not send further soldiers in an election year. Germany is currently the third largest contributor to the force, with about 4,500 troops in Afghanistan.

The White House is this week debating a middle ground between a strategy advocated by Vice President Joseph Biden to narrow the focus to a fight against remaining Al Qaeda forces – or to go broader in a deployment to reshape Afghanistan into a hearts and minds military-civilian campaign, reportedly backed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. A third option is an Afghanization strategy – to build up the Afghan army.

The first option, a fight against Al Qaeda, is seen in Europe as a recipe for further withdrawal of its troops – a replay of 2003's Operation Enduring Freedom, a strike-heavy approach.

Some 50 British troops have died in Afghanistan since June; the Tory party and press have attacked Brown heavily for a deployment he inherited from Tony Blair.

"One thing we do not want... is a status quo stabilization approach," says Heisbourg. "The status quo isn't working. It means since 2003, every year, more Taliban; every year, more deaths.

"It is merely stupid to say that NATO can't fail; it is now failing."

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